To Eat ‘Snacks Or Snakes?’ Discover The Idiosyncrasies Of Bhutanese English


Bhutanese English differs from standard English not only in terms of its accent and pronunciation but also in the usage of words while speaking and writing.

Young students learning English in Bhutan. (Source: Conor Ashleigh)


By Tshering Dorji | Kuensel

English was introduced to Bhutan after the 1960s when the once reclusive nation started to open itself to the outside world during the reign of His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.

Even though the national language of Bhutan is Dzongkha (with roots from the Tibetan language family), English is actually the medium of instruction in schools throughout the country.

Some interesting features of Bhutanese English

In Bhutan, a Member of Parliament was once trolled on social media for serving ‘snakes’ instead of ‘snacks’ and Facebook users usually write ‘congress’ when they actually meant to say ‘congrats’.

Moreover, phrases like - today itself, on top of that, pass out, bunk, pre-pone, and the use of redundant words such as ‘each and every’, ‘I myself’, and ‘until and unless’ among others, are some examples of the idiosyncrasies of Bhutanese English.

These words and phrases would be unrecognisable to native English speakers. Bhutanese English differs from standard English not only in terms of its accent and pronunciation but also in the usage of words while speaking and writing. 

How did Bhutanese English originate?

These common errors, according to a former lecturer, Jude Polky’s research paper from the College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS), are the results of the migration of Indian English to Bhutan.

The research is an outcome of the author’s own difficulties faced and experienced during her four-years of teaching at the CLCS.

While the Indian style of education dominated the country’s schools, the paper states that Indian teachers who have taught in Bhutan were not first language English speakers themselves.



43 senior retired Indian teachers who have served in Bhutan were invited as guests of honour to celebrate Teachers’ Day at Changlingmithang, Thimphu on 2 May 2018. The year 2018 is special as it coincides with 50 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan. The history of modern education of Bhutan is closely linked and intertwined with the history of partnership and friendship between India and Bhutan.

Photo: Kuensel


Thus, many brought with them significant grammar and pronunciation errors as well as idiosyncrasies that are common across the Indian subcontinent and Bhutan.

“It is not a simple task to change language styles and habits that have been employed since the introduction of English in Bhutan,” it stated.

How was Jude Polky’s research conducted?

About 470 CLCS students were selected as participants for the research. These students were made to write essays, letters, and deliver oral presentations among others.

It was discovered that more than 70 percent of the letters studied for this research reflect a certain florid style, often beginning with - With due respect and humble request under your kind consideration and sympathetic action please.

This usage of ‘overly’ formal language and tone, Jude Polsky wrote, is strikingly similar to the style of Indian English.

Many of the errors in Bhutanese English, according to the research, also reflected the legacy of the East India Company, while the others have their genesis in translation from Hindi and other Indian languages.

The paper also pointed out that statements such as “I’m going to Trongsa” will often elicit the response “is it?” instead of “are you?”

Bhutan is making effort to ‘distance’ itself from the Indian style of education

Pronunciation and the lack of stress, are also some of the barriers for communication between a native English speaker and a Bhutanese.

Although many errors in English may have some basis in translation from Dzongkha and other local languages, the research actually stated that the majority of the more persistent errors have their foundations in India, influenced by the complexities of British Colonisation.

Many teachers also viewed the students’ participation as a sign of ‘loss of teacher’ control in a classroom.

To compound the problem, it was also discovered that most students are resistant to change. This may hinder Bhutanese university students’ future opportunities for employment. It may also affect their chances of being accepted by universities abroad.

To solve this issue, the Royal University of Bhutan is attempting to distance itself from the Indian style of education - didactic chalk and talk teaching.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.


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